Tardy rehabilitation after last year’s devastating floods has forced voters to favour the BJP

Ashrams line the banks of the Ganga in Uttarkashi, Rishikesh and Hardwar. While sadhus believe they have a close connect with ‘Ganga maa’ (mother), so do many Bharatiya Janata Party stalwarts. However, the electorate seems more attracted to the ‘Modi factor’ than the cause of the Ganga.

Gaumukh, which is the source of the Ganga, is located in Uttarkashi district. Vikas Kalura, a resident of Uttarkashi’s Joshiyara area, said, “The BJP takes up the issue of the Ganga so that the media picks it up and a wave is generated in favour of the BJP.”

“I will be voting for the BJP this time but not because they would do something for the Ganga. They haven’t done much for the river except raising their voices for it,” Mr. Kalura said, adding the anti-incumbency against the Congress was working in favour of the BJP.

BJP leader Uma Bharti, who is the election in-charge for Uttarakhand, in all her recent media addresses in State capital Dehradun, has spoken about “conservation of the Ganga.”

Mukul Sharma, in his paper, ‘Passages from Nature to Nationalism: Sunderlal Bahuguna and Tehri Dam Opposition in Garhwal’, published in the Economic and Political Weekly, states: ‘…. often making partnership with Hindutva politics. Ganga becomes holier and holiest. The ecological reasoning is blurred and goes beyond logic, eliciting Hindu patriotism and xenophobia.’

“Big dams or small dams, this debate will happen later. We want the flow of the Ganga to remain uninterrupted and the holy water to remain clean,” Ms. Bharti said at Ganga Samvad, a seminar on methods and reasons to conserve the flow of the Ganga which was held in Dehradun in January this year.

‘Sparsh Ganga Abhiyan’ — a campaign for cleaning up the Ganga — was launched in 2010 when BJP leader Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who is the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from the Hardwar seat, was chief minister.

According to Mr. Nishank, 40,000 youngsters were connected to the Sparsh Ganga Board, but with the end of the BJP government in the State, the ‘Sparsh Ganga Abhiyan’ also took a back seat.

However, BJP leaders often proclaim that they are not anti-development, and by “conservation of the Ganga” they do not mean they are anti-dams.

Addressing a rally in Tehri constituency’s Vikas Nagar area on Tuesday, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, said, “The Ganga maiya [mother] gives life to the countrymen …. why should we not ponder upon the ways in which Ganga maiya can transform the lives of the people of this region.”

At a rally in Dehradun in December last year, Mr. Modi had pointed out the water potential of the State while stating that the country should not be without electricity with the State’s immense hydropower resources. Many people in the Chadeti village, in Uttarkashi district’s Bhatwari Block, have still not received their compensation after the June disaster last year. Rajesh Rawat, a resident of the village, said: "We don’t support the BJP because it takes up the issue of the Ganga. We support it because we believe it will work for the development of our area.”